Companies are improving capabilities of drones to transport heavier loads

Bell APT 70
APT 70. Bell image.

Many companies are experimenting with drones that can transport cargo. One day drones, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), will assist wildland firefighters by resupplying them with drinking water, portable pumps, fire hose, chain saws, fuel, food, and firing equipment. Today we will look at the experimental aircraft being built and tested by two organizations.

Bell, a company well known for their helicopters, is part of Textron Inc. that also includes Cessna, Beechcraft, Hawker, and several other companies. In 2018 we wrote about their design for an Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) with a goal of hauling 1,000-pounds of cargo. But recently they flight tested a more modest version, the APT 70, that will be able to carry 70 pounds. The objective was to execute a Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight mission in an urban environment transitioning into and out of Class B airspace representing future commercial flights.

Bell APT 70
APT 70. Bell image.

The APT 70 takes off vertically, then rotates to fly on its wings.

Integrated onto the APT 70 is Xwing’s airborne, multi-sensing detect and avoid system. Xwing’s system is comprised of radars, ADS-B, visual system, and onboard processing to provide aircraft tracks and pilot alerts transmitted to the ground station.

Parallel Flight Technologies has been testing proof of concept and prototype drones since the fall of 2018. The lead electrical engineer that helped design the Tesla all-electric battery-powered semi-trailer truck is one of the three people that have created the company that is developing an unmanned aircraft system that could be used on fires, as well as other functions. Joshua Resnick, now the CEO, said “We are building a new drone technology and it can be used for a lot of different things, but wildfire would really be the use case that was the impetus for me to even start on this project.”

Parallel Flight Technologies Beta
Beta. Image by Parallel Flight Technologies.

Their photos and designs often show their drone carrying chain saws or fire hose.

“We have developed a parallel hybrid drone,” Mr. Resnick said, “where the propellers are powered by a combination of gas and electric. The electric motors provide the responsiveness so the aircraft can maneuver and the gas supplies the duration and the high power to weight ratio.”

The aircraft is powered by four hybrid power modules, each with a gas-electric combination. The 2-cycle gas engines work in combination with the electric motors, which provide very high peak thrust as well as redundancy. Larger aircraft in the pipeline could be powered by other fuels, such as diesel or jet fuel.

Parallel is now building a beta version of the aircraft, appropriately named, “Beta”.

The design projects the payload capability (excluding fuel) for the Beta of 100 pounds for 1 hour, 40 pounds for 4 hours, and 10 pounds for 7 hours.

The company expects the Beta will have applications across industries such as firefighting, industrial logistics, and healthcare.

Parallel is currently testing key components of the aircraft and is planning flight testing for the fourth quarter of this year.  “We have a strong customer pipeline for Beta units to be delivered in 2021,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Parallel Flight Technologies Beta
Beta. Image by Parallel Flight Technologies.

Bell Helicopters to build drone that can carry 1,000 pounds of cargo

Bell Helicopters Autonomous Pod Transport
Bell Helicopters’ design for an Autonomous Pod Transport. Bell photo.

Bell Helicopters intends to market a drone that can carry 1,000 pounds of cargo. Their plan is to make multiple models with various capacities, from 50 up to 1,000 pounds. The company does not call it a drone, of course. It will be an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle — specifically, an Autonomous Pod Transport (APT). Bell is working with Yamato Holding Co., Ltd. who will design the removable pod for the cargo.

Bell’s APT will utilize a tail-sitting eVTOL configuration and a payload pod. It should reach speeds of more than 100 mph and can be small enough to handle loads up to 15 pounds, or large enough to transport 1,000 pounds.

The companies say this is one way to deal with the truck driver shortage, since the “flying trucks” will increase efficiency because they won’t require conventional drivers (who are subject to hours of service regulations), they can move faster than traditional trucks, and they won’t have to deal with traffic.

They expect to produce the first prototype in August of 2019.

The Bureau of Land Management is moving quickly in their adoption of drones for surveillance and mapping, but so far the small machines have not been capable of transporting firefighting supplies or equipment.

Picture this. It is midnight. A couple of Hot Shot crews on extended attack in a remote area would like to conduct a firing operation on a slope leading down to a creek. A hose lay would increase their chances of success, and there’s water in the creek. Helicopters can’t haul cargo at night, so they request a call when needed Bell APT sitting at the helibase with 100-pound cargo capacity to bring in a small pump and two Gasner hose packs with nozzles, gated wyes, and a total of 400 feet of hose. That is enough to get the crews started installing the pump and the hose lay. The APT makes additional sorties as needed, bringing three Gasner packs and pump fuel on the second load. It might even bring in some food and drinking water if the crews have not eaten in the last 12 hours. Or fuel for chain saws and drip torches.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bob.
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